Disneyland: still the best

So we came into a bit of money earlier in the year, and decided we’d each have a treat. Mrs R got her new kitchen (report follows), I got my big telly (report follows), and Alex got his return trip to Disneyland Paris. Here’s the trip report!

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I actually like Disneyland, and I like myself for liking it. Dismissing it as some sort of chav nightmare is the easy middle-class thing to do. Coming out of the closet and saying it’s actually great fun is far cooler, IMHO. Firstly, plaudits to Short Breaks for seamless organisation of the trip; I picked them off the web because I liked their web site and because it had some credible testimonials, and the company was efficient and friendly. What’s more, when I needed to be a pain and rearrange the train time back, they were there on Sunday morning when most travel agents would be in bed. Secondly, three cheers for Eurostar once more; the journeys were comfortable and on time, and the service impeccable (yes, we did go Leisure Select, but it wasn’t that much more expensive than “standard” class, and is easily worth the money).

We took the plunge this time, as it was a special treat, and stayed in the Disneyland Hotel, the gaudy pink creation straddling the entrance to the main park. Having now stayed in a selection of hotels on three trips to Disneyland Paris, I’d thoroughly recommend either shelling out for this hotel, or going for something much cheaper, off-site. Ignore the other “on-site” Disney hotels. For us, it’s all about location. The Disneyland Hotel is almost within the park, so you can pop back to your room during the day and it makes all the difference. If you don’t have this convenience, and have to make a trip to the park, you won’t return to your room during the day; so whether you’re a 15-minute walk from the park (the other Disney hotels) or a 15-minute bus ride (the cheaper, off-site hotels) doesn’t really matter.

The hotel was also very pleasant to stay in, as you’d expect. Service was excellent, and some effort was clearly being put in to give it a refined, relaxing air, quite different to the lively holiday atmosphere of other hotels. The standard food (i.e breakfast) was very good, although the expensive evening buffet was rather disappointing for the price.

As for the park, well, it’s Disneyland! All the rides were present and correct, and Alex has definitely progressed from “It’s a Small World” being his favourite (when he was three and a half) to Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Tours (two years on). More interesting for the parents too! I can’t believe we’d never been to see the “Moteurs…” stunt show before – it was great fun – and the new Lion King show was a tremendous spectacle too. We thought two-and-a-half days was about right for us; we did just over half a day in the Studio park, and the rest in the main one, with most time spent in Discoveryland and Fantasyland. The other two are really in need of a bit of livening up. We also caught the last occurrence of the night-time parade and fireworks over the castle before it closed for the winter, which was a bit of a result (although a planned one!).

Overall then, a great holiday, if you take it for what it is. Sure, there are loads of improvements they could make, starting with the admission that the incongruous theming (a “future world” which seems to have been deliberately set in the fifties anyone?) means nothing to the kids and has had its day. Several of the attractions are well past their sell-by date in an age of video gaming. But the good bits are very good, the organisation is impeccable, and the smile on the face of our five year old said it all.

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JCB Dieselmax: a landmark for new media

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Firstly, the breaking of the diesel-powered land speed record this week by the JCB team: brilliant. But something interesting occurred to me yesterday, whilst I listened to a caller on Five Live berating the BBC and other mass media for neglecting what for many people has been the only noteworthy thing in a quiet news week. Whilst an avid web surfer, I’m usually someone who doesn’t consider something to be a genuine event unless it’s been on the BBC Six O’Clock News, front page of the dailies, etc. So I was surprised to hear from the caller that the coverage of the JCB Dieselmax had been so low-key.

Hang on a minute: I hadn’t even realised that the coverage had been so low-key. I had simply, and without thinking, been following it all on the JCB team’s web site, and hadn’t even thought of getting my media coverage anywhere else. In fact, I’d read so much latest news there and watched so much video, that I’d probably passed saturation point for one news story; and although I can’t remember whether or not I watched the Six O’Clock News any night this week, even if I did, I didn’t notice that they omitted to cover it. For me then, this week was a landmark, when new media finally became mainstream for the news. I was bypassing TV and the newspapers without even thinking about it.

Andy Green: Sports Personality of the Year!

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Which one of these looks more like the Sports Personality of the Year to you? OK, probably neither. In a conventional, sane world, Nicole Cooke or Monty Panesar would be shoo-ins for their achievements and entertainment. Proper sports, proper accomplishments on and off the field or track. But in this celebrity-obsessed world, it’s being suggested that comedian David Walliams should get’s this year’s BBC-organised gong, for his – admittedly impressive – feat of swimming the Channel for charity. That’s not a sport. It’s an achievement …but it’s not a sport. If we’re going to open it up to achievements which are vaguely related to real sports, then forget David Walliams; it’s the RAF’s Andy Green for me. The driver of the world land speed record holding car has now driven the JCB-powered JCB Dieselmax to the diesel land speed record, and I’m going to suggest that not only is land speed record breaking as close to a proper sport (motor racing) as cross-Channel swimming is to one, but that Green’s feat was even more impressive than Walliams’. And anyway, have you watched Andy Green being interviewed? Now there’s an old-school hero.

HD = Highly Desirable

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Lots of things to catch up on from the several weeks when I wasn’t posting in May, June and July. One of the things I would have blogged about on a daily basis would have been assembling a new AV system for the living room. So much research to do! So much shopping! So much fun!

I’ll do a short review of most of the components I ended up with in separate entries here, but the inspiration for the whole change was the launch of HD TV here in the UK, which the geek in me couldn’t resist, naturally. That meant a new screen, and repositioning everything in the room meant the old sound system wouldn’t fit, and… you get the rest. Naturally I wanted everything in place for the World Cup in June, during which I expected to have a house full of people regularly, but – like many people – I didn’t anticipate the demand for Sky HD boxes. Sky started taking orders in mid-May, with the World Cup four weeks away, but by the time I ordered mine, delivery date was some time in August. Disaster. The good folks at Sevenoaks Sound + Vision would have no trouble delivering the new screen in time, but I assumed, glumly, that I’d be watching in glorious, old-school, lo-def.

I was wrong. The Sevenoaks lads suggested I ordered Sky HD through them, rather than directly from Sky. They only make a fiver from the deal, but they did say there was a chance Sky might get them some kit more quickly than they would Joe Ordinary Subscriber. And they turned out to be right. Whilst I didn’t have the HD box for the opening ceremony, we were taking the pictures for granted by the time England got knocked out. One-nil to a decent, High Street dealer.

So, what’s it like? Is High Definition TV worth all the fuss? In a word, yes. It’s been variable though. The BBC “test channel” is uniformly fantastic. What a picture. Sky’s stuff, especially Sky One, seemed relatively disappointing at first, but I’m sure the picture quality on the general programming has been getting better over the past few weeks. Watching Brainiac last night, it struck me just what an advance HD is. The sport has been pretty good too, and I’m looking forward to the Premiership stuff; I’m under no illusions that the Championship games I love will be in HD! True, if you’re used to watching high-quality downloads on a computer screen (exemplified by the HD versions of the Apple vs PC ads), you won’t be blown away by the quality per se, but I guarantee seeing programmes you’re used to seeing in lo-def suddenly get 100% sharper will impress you.

As for the Sky HD box itself, it works as advertised, and the tremendous Sky remote control hasn’t been ruined at all. The internal drive is much larger than the old Sky boxes (our original one was always filling up, yet this one seldom goes past 50%), but the responsiveness on fast forward and rewind is not brilliant, sometimes irritatingly slow. Sky have referred to this on the web site and have suggested software improvements may be on the way.

My new favourite online game ever

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Thanks to Gibbo for alerting me to something really special. Geosense says it’s been around since 2003 so I’m gutted that I’d never seen it before. It’s a “point to where the place is” quiz with a world map, and to add interest, you can play against other people online. How cool is that? Very.

Put yourself on a plinth yeah?

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Unquestionably the thing on TV at the moment which makes me laugh the most is Modern Toss. Indeed it’s the only TV for a long time which has made me giggle out loud, so much so that Mrs R came down to find out what it was all about. And it just got better, because she denounced it as “simply not that funny” and “just a load of swearing. That’s all. Just a load of swearing”. Which just made it funnier. “It’s the stink of excellence in a world gone tits up”, as Doon Mackichan (for it is she) says every programme. Help Desk and Drive-By Abuser are the highlights. No question. It’s on for about one more week on Channel Four, then will be repeated seventeen times a year on More4, E4, Kiddie4 and 4play, no doubt.